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‘Customer obsession’ key to Amazon's success

Maria Renz of Amazon at the NEW Forum 2015

Maria Renz of Amazon shared her company's disruption ideas during a NEWTalk — "Rethinking 'Customer First'" — at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum.

Amazon’s status as one of the world’s most successful, game-changing companies is driven in good part by one of its key leadership principals — an obsession with its customers, Maria Renz, technical advisor to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, told nearly 350 industry leaders at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 29, 2015, outside Los Angeles.

When she joined Amazon 16 years ago, Renz found the company’s approach to "customer obsession” challenged everything she had learned about brand marketing in her previous roles at Hallmark and Kraft.

For instance, back then, when Renz ran marketing, every email sent was signed by Jeff Bezos. "Jeff had very clear and different ideas about brand and marketing, all of which I found challenging,” Renz said. For example, for years, Amazon sent customers simple text emails using Times Roman font, rather than stylized HTML emails, to retain the perception of a human touch. "Jeff wanted our communications to look clunky and our voice as a brand was much more accessible and transparent than other brands of our caliber.”

As manager of Amazon’s home page, she was challenged to provide a unique homepage to every customer. "This blew my mind, and was counter to many aspects of brand management I had learned. I thought this was a crazy request. Personalization is so common, and even expected today that it might be hard to remember how revolutionary it was in 2000.”

The older she gets, Renz said, the harder it is to deal with ambiguity. ”But as we say at Amazon, it’s still Day One, and exponential innovation is just around the corner.”

The company’s obsession with customer satisfaction is apparent in Bezos’ habit of reading customer emails, marking them with a single question mark, and passing them along many to Amazon team members to follow up. "Why task the CEO with sending out and reading detailed responses to many emails every day? Because we obsess over customers. Amazon is an incredibly data-driven company. Every week we review hundreds of metrics on our business to assess performance. But we have found that a single anecdote can be a very powerful tool to determine whether we are measuring the right things — the things that matter most to customers and how well those hundreds of metrics reflect the customer experience.

"We view ourselves through the lens of technology, and I believe every company should define itself as a technology company. If you did, what kind of product innovations would it lead you to?

Nearly 50 NEW Forum attendees followed Renz to her 75-minute 90-minute Deep Dive Discussion on "Rethinking ‘Customer First.'”